There are moments in the world of fashion when a setting, a designer, the final collection and its underpinning message hit an accord so synchronistic that it takes your breath away. To bring this into context, Balenciaga’s Fall 2022 collection was prime example of how world events can be transmitted through the clothing and the performance of how we wear what we wear.
There’s few talents today that have as challenged the aesthetic integrity of luxury fashion than the man now officially just Demna and the work he has done in his short time at Balenciaga. Challenging the status quo of what luxury looks like – a t-shirt is now triple figure investment; sneakers have the coveted resale of a Rolex and the thrashed denim, oversized sunnies and distressed kink of the underground culture – are now part of the lexicon.
With his latest collection, Demna brings his own personal experience into play in a raw and galvanising moment. Taking place within an auditorium that provided a 360 degree view of an endless white field of white snow, the original message behind Demna’s vision might have been about the increasing risk of climate change – in interviews post show, Demna said he was inspired by the fear he felt when he visited a familiar mountainside and there was no snow – but the Georgian designer was also tapping into the trauma of his own past as a refugee during the Russo-Georgian war. The white, barren landscape wasn’t just a revisionist of elemental decimation – it took on the landscape of a world facing the threat a nuclear winter.
“The war in Ukraine has triggered the pain of a past trauma I have carried in me since 1993,” he wrote in a message released prior to the show. Demna, who turns 41 this month, went on to say that he almost nearly cancelled the show in light of current events, but then decided that would mean giving in. To hammer his point home, guests arrived to find shirts in the Ukraine flag colours on each of their chairs to wear in solidarity and support of the nation.
And so the show went on. One where not even Kim Kardashian dressed head-to-toe in Balenciaga tape, a look that would be repeated immediately in the following collection, could top. As models trudged through the snow, they became figures from Demna’s past as they fled Russian forces. No longer just dressed in whatever they could find, this time covered in the sinewy forms of Demna’s own designs.
The contrast of asymmetrical dresses, the leather jackets, fur coat and thigh-high leather boots to the world they occupied gave the models the look of a Mad Max-like resistance group. It may not be the world they imagined it would be but they were dressed for it. The familiar oversized and disproportions were still present – the elegance of the grotesque has become something of a blueprint for understanding what Demna does – but to see these put to use in a utilitarian sense was both jarring and perfectly poetic.
Few shows truly go down in history as landmark collections – Mugler SS92 ready-to-wear and Alexander McQueen’s SS99 come immediately to mind – but Balenciaga Fall 2022 could become one of them.